Interview with Deborah Dee Harper Author of Misstep
If you know me, you know that today’s guest is one of my favorite authors of humor. Deborah Dee Harper writes laugh-out-loud mysteries with characters that will never leave you. In between the laughter, there are a couple of tears, well, because Deborah knows how to take the reader on an adventure of mishaps and funny moments.
The following is the blurb for Misstep, which captures the mischief of the story.
Winnie and Sadie are still fighting, and I’m still living in the strangest town on earth.
It’s December in Road’s End, Virginia, a tiny town long forgotten by anyone but its residents, where Colonel Hugh Foster and his wife, Melanie, have chosen to live-for better or worse. The jury’s still out on that one!
Road’s End is comprised entirely of senior citizens whose kids have grown and left for greener pastures. Hugh, Melanie, and Bristol (one of the few sane people in town) are faced with a crumbling church in desperate need of repair and renovation, a dwindling congregation of opinionated, ornery senior citizens, and a camel-yes, a camel.
And if that’s not enough, the trio and the rest of the Road’s End residents, are soon mired in danger and intrigue when a group of gun-toting drug dealers arrive in town, bent on killing the church handyman, and conspiring to ruin the doggonedest record-breaking blizzard the town has ever seen.
Poor drug dealers.
Deborah Dee Harper currently resides in Alaska where she writes inspirational and humorous books for both children and adults and takes thousands of photographs. When she isn’t writing or taking photos, she stalks moose and other wildlife, survives earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, endures the long, dark, frigid winters, revels in the endless summer days, and is awestruck by the rippling northern lights of the Alaskan night skies. She also leaps mountains in a single bound and wrestles grizzly bears along hiking trails. (Not really. Just making sure you were paying attention.) Whenever she can, she loves being with her daughter, son-in-law, and three grandsons in Kentucky, and her son, daughter-in-law, and two more grandsons in Michigan. (For real.)
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at her website www.deborahdeeharper.com, and her three blogs: www.deborahdeetales.blogspot.com, www.deetrails.blogspot.com and www.laramieonthelam.blogspot.com.
I have been wanting to ask this question to an author with a sense for comedic exploits, and you so exhibit that sense in Misstep. Does writing humor come easy to you or do you have to work at it?
Fay, I can honestly say that (for the most part) it comes easily to me. And that’s not necessarily a good thing or because it’s some special skill. It’s mostly because I can be a smart aleck at times J. I love to laugh, and I love to make others laugh. I firmly believe God gave us a sense of humor for several reasons—to enjoy the humorous things that happen around us every day of our lives, to defuse situations that might become volatile if we don’t look at the funny side, to help us enjoy others who might be different from us (but still beloved children of God), and lastly, a way in which to understand aspects of human behavior we can’t quite explain any other way.
I think many writers could easily write humor because all you do is get in the zone, i.e., enter the personality of your character, and let the thoughts flow. Once I established who the characters were in the Road’s End series, they sort of took over (what I call a “character coup”) and hijacked the whole darned thing. There comes a point in every writer’s book when it no longer belongs to them. The characters have banded together and taken over. That’s when it gets interesting J .
Ah, we are sister authors. My authors initiate successful coups as well.
Because I’m so fascinated with your ability to bring such joy to your story, and because when I do write comedy, the humor replaces something dark or something that troubles me, almost a coping mechanism that my brain brings to characters in my work as well. Many times my characters will cope with darkness with humor—at least I laugh at them. I don’t know if anyone else does.
(Fay, I’ve read plenty of your humor! I don’t know if you even realize what you’re writing is hilarious. It’s just a part of you, and I love it!)
Thank you. Sometimes I don’t even see what I’m writing as funny until I sit down and see what I’ve written about. I laugh best at myself. I do know from personal experience, that people laugh during your stories. From a reader’s perspective, it seems as if you must overflow with happiness to bring such pleasure to others. It’s hard to imagine that you write with perfect comedic timing with anything but perfect peace, but as a spectator in life, I sense that this is a misnomer. Life isn’t always rosy. So, how do you cope with writing humor when life for you at a given moment might be anything but humorous?
Actually, Fay, writing humor when I’m down is a great way to pull myself out of the pit. After all, when I write I’m “becoming” one or more of my characters, and since they’re such goofballs, I have no choice but to succumb to their silliness. I don’t mean to say that it’s always easy; sometimes writing is the last thing I feel like doing, and writing humorously seems impossible. But if I’m on a deadline, I have no choice. And oddly enough, being down in the dumps brings out the sarcasm in me, and sometimes humor is nothing more than veiled (and hopefully, good-hearted) sarcasm. Once you get rolling, it comes easier with each keystroke. Sometimes it’s all I can do to type fast enough to catch my characters’ goofiness. Humor is a great medicine for me, and I’ve relied on it my entire life.
One more question on writing humor only because I’ve seen so many try to accomplish it and fall short. Even a born jokester finds it hard to pull off the punchline, or as in writing, the setup and the payoff. If there is a budding author out there who wants to write humorous stories, is there any element of craft or any other advice that you can give them for honing that skill?
I honestly feel that a person who wants to write humor can write humor because it’s in their very essence, i.e., you won’t want to if you can’t. You don’t want to write humor unless you have it within you. Think of it this way (and try not to cringe like I’m doing as I type this): people write porn—yes, it’s a horrible thing, yet there it is. But a person who wants to write it can find it within themselves to do it. Those of us who wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole couldn’t do it anyway. It’s just not in us. It’s the same with mystery, romance, historical, horror, sci-fi, paranormal, or any of the zillion other genres and sub-genres that exist nowadays. There’s a part of us that can conjure up whatever it is that’s required in that particular genre. Now don’t get me started on how a person who can write porn should fight that desire to do so because it’s from the devil, because I could talk about that all day and that’s not what I’m here to do. Nevertheless, if a writer wants to write humor it’s because God has put that desire and ability into their make-up.
Okay, enough of that. I find that I look for the humor in situations—everyday, run-of-the-mill events that we all experience. For instance, we’ve all gotten behind the person in the checkout line who argues every price the cashier rings up then can’t find their debit card, and when they do, it’s declined, and they decide to write a check and have to dig to the bottom of their luggage-sized purse to find their checkbook, then ask the date, slowly write out the check, their pen runs dry, the woman behind you goes into labor, then delivers (twins), the milk in your cart sours … and still, that customer is up there clogging up the line without a care in the world. You’re furious, they’re oblivious. You can either laugh it off for the ludicrous situation it is, or let it bring you down.
I think most, if not all, humor writers find themselves looking for the laughs in their lives rather than the tears. Besides, humor is oftentimes taking a situation and exaggerating it, as in the example above. Another good example would be the relationship between Dewey Wyandotte and George Washington of Road’s End. Yes, they serve as one another’s BFF (best friend and enemy), but it’s an exaggerated association between two old men, both opinionated and obstinate. The humor comes with the embellishment of that behavior—and anyone who tries to do that with their humor will find it becomes much easier with time. Give it a try.
With regard to exaggeration and the example above in the checkout line, obviously everything I wrote didn’t happen. But because we’ve all been there, using exaggeration makes it funny. The purse is luggage-sized, the pregnant woman had time to finish her pregnancy, go into labor, and deliver twins, the milk sours. It all points to a ridiculously long wait in line, and while that in itself isn’t particularly funny, using it in a piece of writing and exaggerating the circumstances does two things: it gives you a funny scene, and it relieves your white-hot anger at that person at the head of the line.
To make an already long story short, look for humor and you’ll find it. I try not to read in my genre (against all the advice) because I want my humor to be fresh and entirely my own. I don’t want to accidentally latch on to someone else’s ideas or methods. That’s not to say reading humor is completely out of the question. As long as it’s not similar to what I’m writing, reading humor can get me in the mood. Surround yourself with it, look for the humor in the day God has given you, and make it your own!
Okay, about that lady in the checkout, are you sure you’re in Alaska? Or maybe you visited Florida and got in line behind my dear mother-in-law? That wasn’t an over-exaggeration of being in line behind her. *Smiles*
And now, I have to know how you came to meet these lovable misfits who live in Road’s End. Is there somewhere that you’ve visited that brought them to mind or do you actually know a couple of eccentrics like the residents that Pastor Hugh shepherds?
This is going to sound hokey, or worse yet, coming off as though I think I’m special to God (which we all are), but most of the characters were almost planted in my brain. Psychologists and psychiatrists would say, with good reason, that my subconscious conjured up everything, but I can’t help but feel that God helped me tremendously. It’s as though once I came up with a character, say, George, and he introduced me to Dewey, and they turn out to be perfect at playing off one another. Then came the wives who had to be a little nuts in their own right to be married to those men. It turns out they’re a little eccentric all by their lonesomes.
I’ve visited Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg about twenty times, so I’m in love with that time period—the homes, gardens, the beauty of Virginia in all seasons. So using my love for all things colonial, I put my characters in fictional Road’s End in Virginia, and made it a little village filled with history and historical buildings like The Inn at Road’s End and the Christ Is Lord Church. Road’s End has played a role in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and everything in-between, so the stories those buildings and grounds could tell are endless!
While I don’t have anyone in particular who matches the personality of any one of my Road’s End characters precisely, I think George and Martha, Dewey and Winnie, Sadie, Frank, Leo, Perry, and the rest of the gang are probably mash-ups of people I’ve run across during my lifetime. I think that’s true of most writers. People they’ve known, worked with, grown up with, or gone to school with end up in their books in one fashion or another. Humor’s no different.
Lastly, I think if I’d actually known someone with … say, Sadie’s personality, I’d have lost my sense of humor altogether! J
I don’t want to give away Sophie’s identity, but when she stepped into the story, I actually did fall on the floor laughing. Really. And as the exploits with Sophie continued, I found myself unable to breathe. My sides hurt from all the abdominal exercises that a true belly laugh can give to you. How in the world did you think of bringing Sophie to Road’s End?
Sophie was one of those characters who just happened. When Sherman DeSoto came to town, he was such a strange character I just knew he’d have someone like Sophie with him. Besides, the town was preparing for the live Nativity, so it just made sense. Sophie shows up in all the books of the Road’s End series. I think she’s here to stay. In my experience, the less planning I do and the more I let the characters take over, the better it turns out! When one idea pops into your head, somehow it leads to how that character can do something outrageous with it, and that leads to another and another, and pretty soon you have an entire scene or chapter or perhaps an entire thread in your plot–all from the addition of one crazy character.
I would be so disappointed if Sophie didn’t show up in each of the stories. But nothing will ever trump her first introduction. I’m laughing right now as I think of her.
I happen to know that there is a second “Mishap” which is about to overcome the Road’s End residents, and I can guarantee the reader it is as hilarious and as heartwarming as the first. Can you tell us a little about the next release? Also, you have a book in a different genre that will be out in the future. I’d love to hear about it as well.
You’re right, Fay, the second book in the Road’s End series, Faux Pas, is on the way, and thanks so much for your kind words about it J. It’s being released on July 4, 2017, and I’m really excited about it. A few months have passed since the incidents in Misstep, and Hugh and Melanie Foster are thrilled to find out their only daughter, Amanda, is getting married! The only problem (the first of many), though, is that the wedding is a mere two months away, and Mandy has asked Hugh to officiate the nuptials at the Christ Is Lord Church right there in Road’s End. Sadly, the church is threatening to collapse into the dirt floor basement and is in need of immediate repairs. Right off the bat, Hugh is faced with getting permission to repair the pre-Revolutionary War era building. And that’s just the beginning. The Fosters are unaware that Mandy’s fiancé, Jonathan Sterling, is the only nephew of Stuart Thomas Rogers, the President of the United States. And he’s coming to the wedding.
As if that isn’t enough to drive Hugh into the Witness Protection Program, the cranky residents of Road’s End have it in for the president for not coming through on his campaign promises to bring God back into the government and to the forefront of the nation. When they find out he’s coming to the wedding, all heck breaks loose as Sadie Simms prepares to give the president what-for and present him with a Constitutional amendment, while the men of Road’s End prepare to honor him with their version of a parade. A wedding, a president, an antagonistic senator, a new son-in-law, brand-spankin’ new grandson, a church under repairs, cranky senior citizens, and Sophie. What more could a man ask for?
The other book, Sin Seeker, is the first book in my Sin Seeker series. It’s darker than the Road’s End books and deals with sin and the very real battle we’re in every day of our lives with the forces of darkness. Graves (Gray to his friends) Hollister is a discouraged social services employee tasked with the thankless job of keeping children safe from parents who don’t deserve them in the first place and who neglect and abuse them regularly. He starts hearing demonic voices shortly before a hideous tragedy occurs, after which he quits his job and sinks to the bottom of a bottle of anything he can find that’ll put him in an alcoholic stupor. He spends two months trying to obliterate his memories. Finally, he realizes he can’t; he must face them, so he enrolls in seminary and becomes a pastor. With his new role as pastor and his newfound ability to actually see the sin on the people God has tasked him with helping, Gray finds himself thrown head-first into a world of evil and demons, angels and miracles.
Deborah, thank you for joining me here today. I will be so thankful if you’ll return in July to discuss Faux Pas. I’m thinking I’d like to interview Sophie.
Here’s more about Deborah’s July release, the next story in the Road’s End series, Faux Pas:
What would you do if the President of the United States was attending your daughter’s wedding?
Panic. You’d panic. Add in a severe storm, crazy senior citizens who believe the POTUS lied his way into office, a crumbling, but historic church you happen to pastor, a cranky Secret Service agent, a four-year-old grandchild-to-be you know nothing about, and a son-in-law-to-be whose faith in the Lord has waned, and you’ve got yourself a humdinger of a wedding. Not to mention that same future son-in-law is a University of Michigan Wolverines fan (not a Michigan State Spartans fan) and prefers sweet tea to unsweetened. My gosh, what is the world coming to? Talk about a faux pas! Well, good luck with all that, Pastor Foster.
And Heaven help the president.